Budget 2020 – on-the-day briefing

The Chancellor presented his Budget on March 11th.   Whilst recent events have dwarfed the scale of announcements, it contained some important news for our members.

The NHC produced our usual on-the-day briefing after the Budget earlier this month. There were elements to welcome within the Budget – such as the commitment to extend the Affordable Homes Programme, and overall the budget represented a welcome first step in levelling-up for the North. There is more to come – and we need to see evidence of a commitment to levelling-up when the planning white paper, infrastructure strategy and the comprehensive spending review emerge.

NHC submitted a Budget Representation to HM Treasury in February, which you may have seen was reported on the front page of Inside Housing. Our representation focused on local authority housing and planning capacity, the affordable homes programme and regeneration via decarbonisation.

Post-budget, we are particularly keen to influence the development of the £400m brownfield fund the Chancellor announced on March 11th. We were already engaging with MHCLG officials on this, prior to recent events. If you have thoughts on how this fund should operate, then please do contact Brian Robson.

Whilst our immediate priority is supporting our members through current uncertainty, in the longer-term, the NHC will continue with our influencing activity to ensure that Government’s promise of levelling-up is realised and that housing’s contribution is recognised.

Read the full on-the-day briefing here.

NHC welcomes MHCLG officials to Tees Valley

We were delighted to welcome MHCLG Housing Delivery Director Cathy Francis and members of her team to the Tees Valley on Thursday 12th March.

Cathy and her team undertook a day-long tour, taking in sites of opportunity, challenge and recent success.  This included:

  • The huge SSI industrial site in Redcar, now in the hands of the South Tees Development Corporation, and surrounding residential estates
  • Areas of opportunity in Middlesbrough Town Centre, including the ongoing Middlehaven regeneration project and the challenging Gresham town centre renewal site
  • Successful estate regeneration in Stockton, and town centre sites at various stages of development.

Commenting, NHC Executive Director (Policy and Public Affairs) Brian Robson said

“With a £400m brownfield fund announced at Budget just 24 hours beforehand, this was a really timely visit from Cathy and her team. There’s nothing like seeing sites for yourself, so we were delighted to facilitate it, and in the process deepen our engagement with the Ministry and identify areas where we can support policy development.”

Cathy and team also attended an NHC Influence North engagement event with NHC members from a broader geography.

Huge thanks go to Redcar & Cleveland Council, Beyond Housing, Thirteen Group, North Star, Middlesbrough Council and Stockton-on-Tees Council for supporting the Tees Valley visit.

What have new Northern MPs been talking about in their maiden speeches?

The 2019 General Election returned 140 new MPs to Parliament; of these, 40 represent constituencies in the North of England. Traditionally, new MPs arrive in Westminster and deliver their first speech to the House that gives some personal and constituency background, as well as briefly setting out the issues they aim to confront in the duration of Parliament. This means that we are expected to hear a total of 40 maiden speeches in the coming weeks and months that will give us insight into the aims of these new Northern MPs.

Conservative MPs’ Maiden Speeches

Of the 31 newly-elected Northern Conservative MPs, 15 have so far given their maiden speech in the House of Commons. Here, we take a look at what initial concerns and interests they have discussed as an indicator of what we could expect from them here in the North:

The image above shows that the NHS has so far been one of the biggest concerns of Conservative MPs detailed in their maiden speeches, with most Conservative members celebrating the NHS Funding Bill and committing to improving local health services.

Brexit remains in the lexicon of Northern Conservative MPs, unsurprisingly as many represent constituencies with high leave-voting majorities. It has been typical for them to refer to the “unleashing” of potential that exiting the EU is predicted to establish and it is likely that this will continue in maiden speeches yet to be delivered, especially in relation to the North.

We can also see that other issues such as crime and the police force have been frequently mentioned with many stressing the importance of the police having access to the necessary resources to tackle such things as terrorism-related and organised crime. Concerns about education and young people also seem to be high up on the agenda, with a real focus on social mobility across the group.

More interestingly for NHC members, a commitment to the principles of the Northern Powerhouse and “levelling-up” unites Northern Conservative MPs. A need to rebalance the regions through the spreading of opportunity and investment has been acknowledged, along with the recognition that many areas in the North have been “left-behind”. Most MPs have so far referenced the Government’s programme to level-up communities and their role in this within their constituencies. Transport has been a common theme in this agenda, with many calling for the improvement of rail and bus services as an integral part of levelling-up the country. The renewal of town centres was also outlined by some as another necessary measure, with praise following for the Towns Fund and Future High Streets Fund frameworks.

There has so far been very little on the climate crisis, and even less on housing in the North from this set of MPs. We know that housing can make an important contribution to levelling-up at pace; and that decarbonising the North’s existing housing stock will be vital if we are to achieve the goal of net zero by 2050. This exercise has shown the importance of our sector engaging and working with these new Northern Conservative MPs to show them what councils, housing associations and ALMOs in the North have already achieved and to work with them to deliver on our shared priorities of increasing housing supply and quality in the North.

Labour MPs’ Maiden Speeches

With the party’s presence significantly diminished in the North, only 9 Labour MPs representing Northern constituencies were elected to Parliament for the first time last year. All but one of these first-time Labour MPs have now delivered their maiden speech to the House of Commons. We take a look at what they have been saying:

Immediately, we can see a stark difference of priorities for new Labour members compared to the Conservative group in this Parliament. Outlining the consequences of austerity measures from current and past policy decisions ran through each of these maiden speeches, with continuous reference to cuts to public services in each of the MPs’ constituencies.

Universal Credit has been frequently criticised, with its impact on individuals and families being highlighted in most of these speeches. Unemployment and precarious working arrangements are also high on these MPs’ agendas, as well as the impact of in-work poverty for many of their constituents, notably the rise of the necessity to use food banks.

Homelessness and rough sleeping feature heavily in these speeches. Concerns include the budgets of councils, which Labour MPs believe are unable to deal with the increasing level of people without a home, with links drawn to levels of funding. The majority of Labour MPs who spoke on these issues linked them directly to the lack of quality, affordable homes available to constituents and criticised the Right-to-Buy scheme for having further reduced the stock that councils and housing associations maintain.

The climate crisis has so far been a significant concern of new Northern Labour MPs with some discussing climate changes impacts the North has seen such as recent flooding. With references to a Green Northern Powerhouse, it was suggested that constituencies in the North are well-placed to lead in the move towards low-carbon energy.
The North’s housing sector has an opportunity to bring together those who are calling for more, and better quality, affordable homes with those calling for action on climate change. If we can integrate these arguments, we have a compelling story to tell.

The NHC continues to work with MPs across parties through the APPG for Housing in the North and other engagement activities.

This analysis was prepared by Anna Seddon, Policy and Public Affairs Assistant. For more information, contact Anna Seddon 0191 566 1000

Housing Ombudsman – Insight on data, individual complaints and learning

Guest blog by Richard Blakeway, Housing Ombudsman

It is critical for the Ombudsman, as well as resolving individual disputes, to share the insight and learning from our casework to improve services across the sector.

We do this in several ways already – from training through to reports focusing on a specific issue – and will be doing more during this year. In January we published the first in a new series of quarterly Insight reports. It is the start in providing more frequent data on our complaints as well as drawing on a selection of cases that illustrate the range of our work and to share knowledge and insight that we believe will help landlords improve their complaint handling and housing services.

Focused on the first six months of 2019-20, issue 1 of the Insight report shows that complaints about repairs was the biggest category of complaint, accounting for 29% of the 4,724 complaints received. This is consistent with previous years which is why we focused on repairs complaints as the subject of our first Spotlight report published last year. Take a look at it on the website, if you haven’t seen it already. It identifies the most common causes of complaints about repairs and good practice points to help landlords avoid them.

The five cases summarised in the Insight Report are very powerful. They vary from one incident where we found no fault in the way an ALMO had responded to a complaint about damp and mould in a resident’s home to a group complaint from 29 residents in supported accommodation for the elderly with a finding of severe maladministration. In the latter case, the housing association withdrew daily support visits for elderly residents without consultation, despite contractual commitments. We ordered a formal apology and compensation between £250-500 for each resident depending on their tenancy agreement.

From the five case studies, we’ve highlighted some wider lessons for the sector. Some concern policies and processes, including fulfilling policy commitments, while others are more focused on culture and behaviour, such as taking responsibility for complaints and for resolving the issue. A good procedure and well-trained staff will achieve results, but for maximum impact a positive complaints culture is essential.

In 2020-21 we plan to publish the Insight report on a quarterly basis and further expand our activities to promote positive change in the sector.

We hope the reports will be a useful resource for landlords. We would appreciate your feedback on the report including any other information you would like to see in future issues. See the report on our website for details on how to do this.

 

 

How the NHC strive to support staff wellbeing

“Our staff are the key to our ability to deliver excellent services to members”.

Catherine Wilmot, Executive Director (Operations & Finance), Northern Housing Consortium talks about why empowering staff through training and development is so important to the NHC and how we strive to support staff wellbeing.

Having worked most of my professional career within services organisations I am a passionate believer in the importance of a happy, healthy and motivated workforce in an organisation’s ability to be cohesive and deliver the best services it can.  Furthermore, through study towards a Masters degree in Organisational and Business Psychology, I have academically cemented my experience that one size does not fit all when it comes to managing your workforce or promoting the many different facets of health and wellbeing to individuals. Health and wellbeing not only covers physical and mental health, but also the environment staff work in, the opportunities to develop or train, and to work as a team, work-life flexibility, and organisational leadership and overarching values.

“We believe in empowering staff at all levels”

Our personalised training and development plans support our staff to become subject matter experts in their field. I believe that staff members should feel encouraged to complement their sector and role knowledge through study and through affiliation to the professional member body related to their role. We are currently supporting 26% of our staff body in their studies towards recognised academic or professional qualifications and many staff are members of professional member bodies, ensuring authenticity in the specialist and sector support we provide to our members.

We believe in empowering staff at all levels. Each individual has a unique insight into what works in their roles and involving them in the strategy shaping process is a powerful way to give staff some autonomy over the processes they know best.

This year our staff at all levels were actively engaged in the development of our new corporate plan, encouraging them to use their individual areas of expertise to best effect. Using key corporate objectives and ambitions developed from a recent member perception survey and agreed by our Board, we developed a refreshed plan that will help us to continue to succeed and to achieve our objectives through to 2022 and beyond.

We have a strong staff culture at the NHC, and this year we asked a volunteer staff working group to support a modernisation of our corporate values, the glue to our ability to deliver the new corporate plan. Our member focussed, collaborative, innovative and supportive values relate to us as teams, as an organisation and as a membership body.

“We are passionate about the wellbeing of our staff”

We are passionate about the wellbeing of our staff in order to facilitate the best support to our member organisations. We have established a staff-led wellbeing working group to discuss and promote initiatives to sustain and improve physical and mental health and wellbeing amongst staff.  We recently undertook a full staff wellbeing survey which generated very positive results – but we are striving to do more.

“Our flexible working policy, allows staff to be fully agile”

We now have nearly 80% of our staff signed up on our remote working programme, which, together with our flexible working policy, allows staff to be fully agile and choose an optimal time and location to deliver their workplan effectively. 100% of our staff are now fully equipped with the communication tools and IT infrastructure to be able to work remotely if required, minimising any risk of downtime.

“We have held several events in recent months on mental wellness”

We are all very aware of the impact housing has on mental health. Staff working in housing organisations are particularly susceptible due to the nature of the vulnerable residents and complex issues they deal with on a day-to-day basis. The Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) has launched a guide to help housing organisations improve their approach to mental health and here at the NHC we have held several events in recent months on mental wellness: including a mental health and housing conference and training courses covering individual, team and tenants’ mental health. We will continue to bring members together to discuss approaches to mental health – look out for a seminar for HR and People Directors later this year.

Overall, we believe our noteworthy recent sickness record, of only 1.8 days per employee for the full year, is testament to the success of our remote working programme and other staff wellbeing measures put in place. We hope that these measures and ongoing actions will help to sustain this excellent performance within the organisation, and further develop our staff as role models and ambassadors for the sector in general.

 

The 5 Step Plan for becoming an inclusive organisation

Paul Fox, Director of Workplace Solutions, Texthelp

Did you know that more than 15,000 businesses in the UK have signed up to the Disability Confident Scheme?

Disability Confident organisations play a leading role in changing attitudes for the better. They’re changing behaviour and cultures in their own businesses, networks and communities, and reaping the benefits of inclusive recruitment practices.

The scheme helps employers recruit and retain great people, and:

  • draw from the widest possible pool of talent
  • secure high quality staff who are skilled, loyal and hard working
  • improve employee morale and commitment by demonstrating that you treat all employees fairly

It also helps customers and other businesses identify those employers who are committed to equality in the workplace.

As Disability Confident Employers, Texthelp are fully involved in and supportive of the Department for Work and Pensions’ Disability Confident scheme.

To help other organisations striving to improve inclusion, we have produced a succinct guide for Diversity and Inclusion professionals and HR Managers in conjunction with Pinsent Masons, The Telegraph, Microlink and HS2.

 

How the guide helps

Our employers guide is full of helpful information and recommendations to support you in adopting a disability confident strategy in your organisation.

It includes a five step plan for becoming an inclusive organisation, along with best practices from industry leaders to help you adopt inclusive policies from recruitment, induction, and staff development, to performance management and staff retention.

Get Texthelp’s comprehensive Disability Confident Guide for HR & D&I Professionals here.

 

About Texthelp

 Paul Fox has been with Texthelp for three years; and as Director of Workplace Solutions he specialises in helping public and private sector organisations to support workforce wellbeing strategies, increase staff productivity and customer engagement.

Texthelp creates smart, easy-to-use support technologies that help to create an inclusive working environment where everyone – including those with neurodiversities – can achieve their personal and professional goals.  And, by removing communication barriers online to bring equal access to the web and facilitate self-service.

Learn more about how Paul can help your organisation by contacting him on email: p.fox@texthelp.com.

Guest blog (NEA) – Smart Energy GB in Communities – Launch of the large grants fund

Smart Energy GB in Communities

National Energy Action (NEA) is pleased to announce that the 2020 Smart Energy GB in Communities programme is now live, with grant funding and support being targeted to organisations reaching people aged over 65 who are unaware of smart meters. This group will have a very limited knowledge and understanding of smart meters and will not have engaged with the rollout so far. Insight from Smart Energy GB tells us that this year’s target group are also more likely to have no personal internet access and/or be on a low income.

The Smart Energy GB in Communities programme aims to engage and work with trusted partners supporting people aged over 65 who are unaware of smart meters, to ensure people in the target group understand how smart meters can benefit them.

Large grants fund

Grants of up to £25,000 are available for organisations that can deliver support to people in this year’s target group: people aged over 65 who are unaware of smart meters.

We are seeking applications from regionally based organisations. Ideally with local networks and substantial face-to-face reach that can deliver direct support to people in the target group. Previous applicants are eligible to apply. Housing associations and local authorities are also welcome to apply.

We are looking for applicants that have a trusted voice in their community and can provide support to people in our target group.

Full details are included in our Guidance Document on the NEA website. Please read this before completing an online application form and Project Plan. If you have any queries please contact us.

All applications should be completed using the online application form and Project Plan. The closing date to apply is Friday 21 February 2020. We aim to appoint successful projects in mid-March, with delivery running until 9 December 2020.

Tenant Panels event summary

Last month around 100 of the region’s engaged residents returned to The Principal York for the Northern Housing Consortium and Tenant Advisor’s 9th Annual Tenant Panel conference. The theme of the day was ‘influencing services and decision makers’ and with a General Election on the horizon, delegates used the day to produce their own ‘Resident’s Housing Manifesto’.

With the election now having taken place and the Conservatives in No.10 – attention will turn again to the long-awaited next stages of the Social Housing Green Paper and Action Plan. In the meantime, however, we are happy to give our Government a nudge in the right direction with our own review of what would make a difference to residents and communities.

 

A Housing Manifesto for Residents

This Manifesto was produced directly by social housing residents at the National Tenant Panels Conference 2019, York.

Government should work with Landlords to build on their duty to:

Undertake community development in partnership with residents;

Landlords should drive creative partnerships and initiatives with tenants – ensuring the important resource of local knowledge is drawn on to maximise both impact and trust.

These innovative ‘community panels’ would be made up of all residents (including owner occupiers) and facilitate not just scrutiny but facilitate communication with local institutions whether the emergency services or local government.

Engage residents in solutions for their own safety;

Again, resources for meaningful engagement and partnership should be established to talk effectively about safety with individual tenants – post-Grenfell, tenants should be asked about their perception of safety and “what would make them feel safe”. This would include developing  ‘see it, say it, report it’ culture amongst tenants for raising concerns backed up by a ‘listen, record, and do it’ culture for landlords themselves.

Provide support to vulnerable tenants;

Landlords should go out of their way to fully understand their customers and households, to establish what their vulnerable people want and what actually is needed – taking into account many factors such as physical & mental health, substance misuse, loneliness, domestic abuse, poverty, fuel, anti-social behaviour, protected characteristics.

Allocation policies should provide suitable accommodation for vulnerable people and all landlords should have business continuity plans and emergency plans that ensure vulnerable people remain housed.

Engage residents in how they invest for social purpose;

Tenant’s Charter’s should include involvement in investment choices and decisions on Social Purpose. To this end, well trained and supported engaged residents should work to develop plans with internal structures and teams such as a Community Investment Team.

Incorporate resident views into the Corporate Plan and strategic direction.

Resident’s should be involved from the inception of all plans and strategic direction and supported to learn, engage and participate fully. Engagement should be made through a string of communication channels and not just digitally – efforts should be made to capture the ‘forgotten tenant’.

  • Gas safety Service-user’s Focus Groups involved for example in digital scheduling of services to improve efficiency
  • Pilot projects on FD30 fire doors, ledges & handles.

 

  1. A Duty on Landlords to Provide Support to Vulnerable Tenants

Residents would like to see their landlords:

  • clearly defining “vulnerability” and vulnerability categories, taking account of many factors including physical & mental health, substance misuse, loneliness, domestic abuse, poverty, fuel, anti-social behaviour, protected characteristics, etc.;
  • conducting profiling to fully understand their customers and households, to establish what their vulnerable people want and what actually is needed from their customers;
  • staff and residents training to increase their awareness of vulnerability;
  • ensure their allocation policies provide suitable accommodation for vulnerable people;
  • have business continuity plans & emergency plans that cover vulnerable people;
  • introduce Personal Evacuation Plans for vulnerable tenants in lower level flats;
  • linked to Local Authorities introduce an emergency crisis team who are fully trained and resourced;
  • identify key partners e.g. Statutory, 3rd Sector & volunteers. Part of their work will be to develop community cohesion, so people can help others with their self-care;
  • feedback to customers “you said we did” to ensure they are providing and delivering on the correct priorities.

In general, isolation and vulnerability would be reduced by commitments to social care becoming a reality, reversing cuts to health & social care, removing bedroom tax as vulnerable people may need a “spare” room for carers and giving more support for carers.

 

  1. A Duty on Landlords to Engage Residents in how they Invest for Social Purpose

Residents would like to see their landlords:

  • have a Tenant’s Charter setting out fundamental rights including involvement in investment choices and decisions on Social Purpose shaped by directors and employees;
  • train and support effective tenant board members;
  • enable every tenant to be a shareholder with a the right to vote at the AGM;
  • to develop plans, internal structures and teams such as a Community Investment Team or Social Enterprises like community bakeries, which will be subject to effective scrutiny and due diligence from tenant board members and groups. These will increase transparency and accountability to tenants on investment issues;
  • create opportunities within organisation for management/board to listen to tenants;
  • provide more face to face communication and regular updates e.g. on staff changes;
    • arrange funding for different events: o Community events i.e. coffee mornings, drop in events
    • Neighbourhood events inviting housing officer
    • Vulnerable tenants events
    • Health and Wellbeing Team Mental Health etc. either phone or Community Base

 

  1. A Duty on Landlords to Incorporate Resident Views into the Corporate Plan and Strategic Direction

Residents would like to see their landlords:

  • involve residents from inception (a duty to involve tenants in value for money) in all policies;
  • supporting them to learn, engage and participate fully;
  • to prioritise the work of the landlord;
  • carry out customer profiling which is service specific to ensure communications channels work, both ways;
  • improve communication, through human contact and not just digitally. Use of phone and face to face contact means you get so much more information from tenant (communication is more than just social media – one size does not fit all);
  • involve all groups and voices. They will capture the forgotten tenant voice, to spend money fairly not just on those that shout loudest!;
  • attract younger people while maybe accepting that they might not want to be involved in the same way;
  • ensure outcomes are fed back;
  • enable consistency across sector, agreed standards and enshrine for tenants & residents;
  • set up Tenant Panel’s to scrutinise services so they report both to Board and the community;
  • enable resident engagement in procurement;
  • communicate landlord service testing with Partners and contractors;
  • deliver this for all social tenants to ensure upkeep of houses, so they are fit for purpose, safe and repairs are done to agreed timescales;
  • spend more money on ASB and communicate more effectively about it.